I used to work for an outdoor education program in Portland that brought every sixth grader in the county to the forest for a week. They came from everywhere; farms, cities, apartments, mansions. Every need, every language, every behavior. Some students came to us with higher needs and they usually had one-on-one aides with them. Some were volunteers, some were professionals who were with the children every day.
One week there was a boy who lives with autism. He was non-verbal and often wanted to stay in one place away from the group. He liked to dig in the soil and did that quite a lot. But the other thing he did was draw these pictures of TriMet buses.
I noticed this a few days in to the week and I asked his aide to set these pictures aside for me. I’ve kept them for over 8 years. I’ve kept a lot of art that students made, some with autism, some not.
There is so much to these pieces. If you know anything about Portland or TriMet, you quickly notice that most of these are the backs of buses. This student and his mom rode the bus everywhere, but for him to notice the backs of the buses with this much detail means he was consistently watching them drive away from him.
He drew the ads on the back, which take up the rectangular lower half. He drew the lights, the triangle sign, the grating on the back, and the LED panel that indicates which bus is which. There are a few consistent lines too — 33 Fremont, 4 Division, 12 Sandy, 15 Belmont.
They aren’t all the same though. There’s a bike on this one—
These are profiles—
This is just started—
All of them are beautiful—
They’re also mysterious. What was it about the bus that stuck in his mind?
I saw this student again a few years ago at a bus stop with his mom. They were sitting on the ground and she was knitting. I hope they just ride around to their appointments and that he still watches the buses drive away, making mental notes of the lights, the signs, and the ads. I hope it brings him peace to draw them.